INTERVIEW: Israel prefers trade over aid in devt assistance – envoy
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During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit in July last year, Rwanda and Israel signed three partnership agreements and committed to do more to promote closer ties.
The three agreements are in the areas of joint declaration of intent on innovation, visa exemption for holders of diplomatic passports, and joint declaration in the field of agriculture.
The two countries also pledged to do more to link businesses and citizens of the two countries for mutual development. The New Times’ Collins Mwai spoke to Israeli Ambassador to Rwanda Belaynesh Zevadia, who is based in Ethiopia, on the progress to build further business ties between the two countries. Zevadia was in the country for the Transform Africa Summit.
What is Israel’s interest in the Transform Africa agenda?
Israel is a startup nation and has quite some experience in the ICT sector. Israel is currently in the process of returning to Africa and this is one of the ways we hope to support the continent. We have the right technologies that can support the development of the continent across several sectors including solar, water and sanitation, among other sectors.
We are ready to come to Africa and Rwanda is one of the countries on our (agenda). We have a common history with Rwanda which brings us even closer.
After the Holocaust, Israel was able to build a country that is today leading in technology among other aspects. We hope that we can help Rwanda do the same.
Among the ways we intend to do this is to bring Israeli private companies to support the adoption of technology and ICT in Africa.
During Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to Rwanda, there was talk of the need to bring more Israeli businesses to Rwanda. Any major players opening shop in the country soon?
We did sign agreements last year when the prime minister visited the country. Rwanda is attractive to Israeli business community and we already have a number of them investing in the country. The country is growing fast and we see a lot of advancements that we can have a role in.
Already, Motorola is opening their regional office in Rwanda, which is huge. We also have many other countries that are interested since the prime minister came here last year.
Talking of supporting the country, a number of African countries are calling on development partners to move from aid to trade. What is your preference?
Israel is very comfortable in working with Rwanda. Rwanda is an attractive economy to work in and most of the investors I have spoken to are very pleased to work in the country. Aid is different, we have some work in aid, but more than aid, a country needs investments and business.
The most important development is knowledge and Israel has been helping with that and will continue to support.
Israel is keen to support in this aspect. The only way to create big impact is by scale. Scale can be created by suitability, which is by using business solutions with entrepreneurs that have skills that make them the best they could be. Israel combines the two by developing the right skills as well as making investments in Rwanda.
Knowledge transfer is at the moment the most important aspect in our work with Rwanda and other countries. When we take young people, we give them the best skills they can get anywhere else in the world and then they can come back to Rwanda and practise them here.
I think human capacity development should also be accompanied by investment and people to open up the market.
During the Smart Africa Summit, we gave scholarships to young Rwandans to go to Israel to learn from the companies there to prepare them for the business world. This will be through intensive skills to introduce them to the business world.
What are some of the sectors that Israeli investors are looking to enter in the coming days in the country?
In many sectors, some companies are looking at entering the water sector, they have experience in water handling and recycling. We would like to have someone come into that sector.
We would also like to have someone come into infrastructure, solar systems. This are some of the areas where we hope we can bring skills to Rwanda.
Are there any opportunities for local investors in Israel or possible ventures?
Israeli entrepreneurs have very good abilities in technology development. But when you sit in Israel, you do not understand the needs of Africa. But when they work with Rwandans, the can understand how to bring the right skills here.
Local businesses can work with Israeli tech developers since they know what would work best for the African market.
That can be started here and expand across the rest of the African market.
Any ideas on how to help local startups grow?
We hope we can have more business people from Israel come in to work with the local business people and community. We hope that more people can be involved and that we can scale that up.
That is how we started in Israel and that has enabled us come this far. We want to focus on skills and education. It is a journey and this is just the beginning and we will definitely be seeing advancements in the sector.